THINKING LIKE A COMPUTER
Seventeen students, including Makenzie, took a five-minute bus ride from Chicora Elementary to the Zucker Family Graduate Education Center on the second day of Freedom School. Eight Charleston-area educators who serve as camp coordinators were waiting in a classroom to help guide them.
The students took an assessment with pencils and paper to measure their abilities, and then Nche-Eyabi began to introduce them to “Snap!” The program allows students to drag and drop color-coded computer commands, helping teach them about coding and computer science. Even if students have trouble reading words, they can still do the coding.
Through the program, students learn to think like a computer. In one exercise, they program the computer to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It might be a no-brainer for a human to grab a knife before spreading the ingredients, but students learn that computers need to be told every small step: pick up the knife, open the jar of peanut butter, put the knife in the jar and so on until the tasty sandwich is completed.
Beyond the “Snap!” experience, the students interact with professionals from the community, such as engineers and a virtual-reality expert, who help them connect what they learn in the classroom to how it can be used in the real world.
This year, students also learned with “Code Tracesure,” a new computer game created by Clemson scholars especially for the class. Students walk around a maze and find bonus questions. To exit a level, they have to find and answer all the bonus questions. Each bonus question has a small command they have to interpret. If they get it right, they get extra points, explains Victor Zordan, chair of visual computing in the School of Computing at Clemson; he’s the principal investigator for Coding for Kids and a program organizer.
“They get a number of stars at the end of each level,” Zordan says. “The idea for us is that they will continue to play each level until they’ve got the full set of stars, which means they are practicing again and again and again with these questions. It’s set up to incentivize them reading little snippets of code.”